So, you finally found some spare time to reupholster the dining room chairs or the flea market find that’s been collecting dust. Before you head over to your local hardware shop or community tool share hub, you may want to make a checklist of the specific upholstery tools and protective gear needed to complete your project.
Some upholstery tools you may find in your tool box, others are specific to the trade and may be worth investing in, especially if you plan on doing more than a one-off and want to achieve a professional look. You may not need all the tools or safety items listed below, they’re only my suggestions.
I have broken them down into three groups: 1) Must Have; 2) Nice to Have and 3) Already Have. In each group, I explain the function of the tool or gear and which upholstery projects you can complete with them.
The “Must Have” list is comprised of a group of tools and protective items that are staples in the upholstery workshop. For the beginner, these are the tools you’ll want to start with and can add on as required.
1. Staple remover or Tack lifter. This trademarked tool by C.S. Osborne, resembles a screwdriver but has a forked head which makes it ideal for lifting tacks or staples from chairs without damaging the frame.
2. Heavy-duty stapler. Used for uncomplicated, short term upholstery projects when fixing material to frames. Refer to manufacturer’s recommended staple sizes. Use a Pneumatic Air Staple Gun (see below in “Nice to Haves”) for more complex upholstery jobs or to reduce hand strain.
3. Hot-glue gun. Used primarily for placing piping. The hot glue holds the piping in place before permanently securing it using staples. When purchasing hot glue sticks, buy the best quality you can find.
4. Side cutter. Used to remove stubborn staples or tacks that your staple remover failed to lift completely. A good pair of general pliers may also do the trick and are a useful addition to your upholstery tool kit anyway.
5. Dust mask. Use a dust mask to keep that dust out of your nose and mouth. Inexpensive ones can be purchased by the pack from dollar stores but look to hardware stores for heavier duty dust masks. Note: Use a respirator when using stain or paint strippers.
6. Shears. Heavy duty scissors or shears carry extra weight in the blade which reduces hand fatigue and cramping in extended periods of use. The additional weight also imparts extra control and smoothness. Look for 9” or 12” tailor blades. Invest in a good set of shears and be prepared to sharpen the blades regularly which will become dull with repeated use.
7. Utility gloves. Gloves will impair your dexterity for many upholstery tasks, but for stripping the old upholstery or moving bulkier pieces of furniture, they will go far in protecting your hands from splinters, cuts and even callouses.
8. Chalk. One of a number of marking instruments that will come in handy in upholstery. Used to mark material prior to cutting. Sharpen to a point with a utility knife (see below in Have Already) for more precise marking. Tailor’s chalk, which has a waxy property and comes with honed edges, is also good to have on hand.
9. Flexible fabric tape measure. Used for measuring chair parts, some of which may be curved and require precise measurements. Also used for measuring upholstery fabric, webbing, welting, etc.
“Must Have” tools will allow you to easily upholster most Drop-in seat chairs.
“Nice to Haves” are really “Must Haves” if you plan on doing upholstery for more than just a one-off project. As always, acquire the best quality tools you can afford. Well-manufactured tools will pay for themselves over time.
10. Pneumatic air staple gun. The workhorse of the professional upholstery shop. Used to staple fabric or webbing to a frame. For beginners, look for 71 series gun. Requires a 1 to 4-gallon air compressor and a male connector.
11. Magnetic hammer. Use the magnetic end for picking up tacks, the other end tipped with steel, for driving finishing nails into the frame. Note: Do not tap the tacks or nails with the magnetic end as this will demagnetize the head of the hammer.
12. Web stretcher. Used for gripping jute or linen webbing strips while levering the tool against the frame. Note: web stretchers are not required for rubber or elasticized webbing.
13. Rubber mallet. Used for tapping rails or frames, punching grommet holes and snap fasteners without damaging your material or chair frame.
14. Electric turkey carver. Use in place of a foam-cutter. An electric turkey carver is an inexpensive and effective alternative when cutting and shaping foam.
15. 16″ Straight needle. Used for button tufting and most useful when you need to go straight through layers of material, foam, or batting.
16. Regulator. Used in a variety of functions, from moving stuffing around to detailing piping. One end is a sharp round point while the other is flattened to give better grip and leverage while easing the stress on the hand.
17. Upholstery pins and T pins. Used to hold fabric for machine or hand sewing or tacking.
18. Curved Needles. Used for hand stitching, blind stitching and finishing work for creating hidden seams.
19. Adhesive spray gun. Used to apply adhesive glue spray accurately. Attaches to an air hose and requires a 1 to 4-gallon air compressor and a male connector. A cheaper alternative is adhesive spray in aerosol cans.
20. L-shaped marking square. Used for marking out, measuring and testing the squareness of corners. They are relatively heavy, so they also aid in weighing fabric down when measuring or marking.
With “Nice to Have” tools you should be able to complete a Stuffover or Sprung stuffover chair.
If you’re contemplating an upholstery project, chances are it’s not your first DIY project. This means that you may “Already Have” a few multi-utility tools which lend themselves nicely to upholstery.
21. Cordless drill. Used to remove and replace screws efficiently. A set of 15 to 18 drill bits should allow you to tackle most jobs.
22. Utility knife. Use to sharpen chalk and pencils to a point and for small cutting jobs.
23. Sharpie. Another marking tool that’s handy to have around. Sharpies are permanent on most surfaces so be careful what you mark with them.
24. Chisel. Used to pry stripping fabric that’s been applied with back tacking strips or cardboard.
25. Foot gear. Protect your feet from errant tacks, staples and falling objects while working on your upholstery projects.
26. Sandpaper. Use to remove material from surfaces or to make them smoother in preparation for painting or staining. Use in conjunction with steel wool for best results.
27. Apron. Used to shield yourself from dust, stain, paint and anything else that can run afoul and land on your clothes.
28. Self-retracting tape measure. Naturally used to measure just about anything and can be easily carried in pocket or toolkit.
29. G-clamp. Useful for securing frame repairs. It’s like having a really strong pair of hands.
30. Yard stick. Use one with imperial and metric units as some fabric dealers may use one or the other measuring system.
With “Must Have“, “Nice to Have” and “Already Have” tools, you should be able to complete most non-sewing machine upholstery projects.
Having the right tool for the right job in upholstery is very helpful and can save you a lot of time.
What’s your most valuable upholstery tool? What’s your next upholstery tool acquisition?
Great informative post. New to upholstery and have a few of these tools. Staple lifter is definitely a “must have”.
Welcome to the world of upholstery, Greggory! Hope you have as much fun as I do. Keep in touch for more tips!
To sew the upholstery fabric, can you use a regular sewing machine? Is there a recommended needle type for the choir?
I think that depends on the material. Most fabrics I would say yes and it definitely helps if you have a serger. For materials like leather and vinyls you will need an industrial type machine or at least something with a walking foot.
What a wonderful post! Pinning this for future projects ❤️
Thank you, Sophie!
This is excellent information, well laid out. I pinned it for you, I think it will be helpful for other.
Thanks, Sharon. I hope so too!
Thanks for the info hope to do my best to make the furniture more beautiful
Great Post! I like the tools you need listings!
I like that you started out with a list of must-haves first! I am missing so many things! I guess I need to restock my DIY kit.
Thanks, Bianca. Good luck with all your DIY projects!
Nice, i’m a sucker for DIY. I just did some re-upholstered my dining room chairs too. Good article loved it
Glad you liked it! Good luck with your future upholstery projects!
I just want to thank you so very much for generously sharing your knowledge and your time to help those of us like myself that are beginners.
You’re very welcome! Glad you found the article helpful!
Awesum stuff I’m very much interested in upholstery yet don’t have much knowledge about it. Would love to learn how to and begin with my own projects.Maybe start my own business in the future. I’m in SA and would highly appreciate to know where to get the tools for a beginner like me at a reasonable price, perhaps second hand stores selling upholstery material and tools?
Great to hear this post was helpful to you! Upholstery is a great trade but unfortunately dying here in North America. My advice to you is to start small, perhaps a footstool or drop-seat chair. There are many tutorial to view online but what I did was found a mentor that was a master in the trade and worked with him for a few years over my weekends. I sell tools on my Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/SuiteCityWoman but you may be able to find a retail location closer to where you are as I would imagine the shipping cost would be high. Do check out second-hand stores and online classifieds and if you community has a tool share hub, that may be a great alternative to buying. Good luck and I would love to hear your progress!
I bought a “well used” parson’s chair to try out my upholstery skills. Now I am researching what tools I need to get. Your article is very informative and helpful. I appreciate the description/use for each tool and what is needed for each type of project. Hopefully, once I cover a few less difficult pieces, I will be able to tackle my favorite Old recliner. Thanks again!
You’re very welcome! Glad you found the article informative and helpful. Good luck on your upholstery projects!
Very instructive a simple saying
Glad you found it easy to follow!
Thank u very much suitecitywoman…… that was a well organized document to comb through.
You’re very welcome Vincent! Glad you found it easy to get through.
Great information, I found it very helpful. I have tried upholstery before, but I haven’t done any in a long time. I am seriously considering going back to it after searching for new furniture the prices just blew me away.
Thank you so much.
I’m glad you found it helpful Stan!
Thanks for the info…I really appreciate it…am still schooling about this project inside prison and I want to biggin this project once I am released this coming year so I think this will help as a bigginer too…thanks so much
Glad you found it helpful Spencer. It’s a great trade and I wish you much success! Look into automotive upholstery too. All are great skills to have.
Thanks for this noble information, I am a pensioner, working for myself as a woodworker and I am much interesting to learn how to cover, upgrades all sort of old furniture’s, I want to be come an upholsterer
Glad you for the information helpful Timothy. Woodworking lends itself nicely to upholstery and will definitely be an asset. Best of luck with all your projects!
Thank you for the update.